The below are my tips and tricks for pumping when baby is either in the NICU or at home. These are not a definitive list, but they have got me through the last 3/4 years now of breastfeeding and pumping for my children.
The big thing to have in your mind once your milk supply has come in is that milk supply is about milk removal: the more you empty your breast, the more it signals your breasts to make more. So here are some tips:
You need to express between 8-10 times in 24 hours in order to bring your milk in fully, this mimics roughly what a newborn baby does. I would always suggest hand expressing first, so you do not loose all that amazing colostrum in the pump parts and you can syringe it off your nipples, I would hand express until you are getting at least 5ml of colostrum from each breast then move onto the stimulation part of a pump programme. Once your milk starts to come in then move onto the full programme and remember to pump for every feed baby has.
One of those sessions needs to be between 1 and 4am, as this is when your milk producing hormones are at their highest.
Try and double pump on a hospital grade pump if this is available to you.
Pump for at least 20 minutes and then hand express after you finish. Breast milk is like a river; it maybe slow moving in places, but it is continuous.
Have a look at hand expressing - this is a really useful skill to have and can get you out of all sorts of tricky situations. I have hand expressed on aeroplane when my pump battery died. I work from the top of my breast down to the nipple with firm strokes. You will learn where the milk ducts are and you will then be able to bring the milk down.
You can also do breast compressions. Using you hand in a C-shape, gently massage the top of the breast in a pinching movement. This stimulates the milk.
Try and get as much skin on skin as you possibly can with your beautiful baby. If you are in the NICU, do it as frequently as you can manage. If you are at home, have some lovely baths with your baby, anything to get that skin on skin and smell those lovely baby smells.
Some say it can help to cover the milk bottles that you pump into, as it takes the pressure away from seeing how much is going into the bottle - it will stop you watching the milk dripping.
Stay hydrated and look after yourself! That includes your body and your mind. If you need a break from pumping, then have it - do not beat yourself up if you need a rest. You have been through a lot.
Look into power pumping - I have tried to do this once per day usually at my early morning pump, as this is when your hormones are at their highest. To power pump, you would pump for 20 mins, rest for 10 mins, pump for ten mins, rest for 10 mins and then finish off with 10 min pump. In my hay day I was pumping about 15oz at this time of night.
If you can cut up an old bra so you can be hands free while pumping even better as this will help with the breast compressions.
Other tips such as looking at baby photos or baby videos can also assist with those milk production hormones.
Vitamins, supplements or things like oatmeal cookies do not always help with milk production; in some cases, they can even reduce milk supply. Always speak to a lactation consultant or a doctor before trying anything!
Your breastfeeding journey can be whatever you want it to be, it can be a combo of breast and expressed milk along with adding formula when you need to if you need to and if you choose to. Feeding your baby does not define you as a mum; please look after you too.